Holiday DUI crackdown starts today in Merced

A 20-day holiday drunken-driving crackdown kicks off today in Merced.

The Avoid the 11 DUI Task Force announced a series of drunken-driving enforcement strategies scheduled through New Year’s Day.

“You’ll see us making lots of stops during this highly visible enforcement period and if we suspect anyone is driving while intoxicated, officers will show zero tolerance for drunk driving,” said Merced police Chief Norm Andrade in a statement.

The task force will aggressively target drunken drivers this holiday season with plans for six DUI checkpoints, 17 local roving DUI saturation patrols, and a DUI warrant and probation sweep.

Data shows that the holiday season is a particularly deadly time due to the increased number of drunken drivers on the roads, and every law enforcement agency in the county is prepared to stop and arrest any drunken driver they see to keep roads safe, police said.

Nationally, from 2007 to 2011, 4,169 people killed during the month of December in crashes that involved intoxicated drivers. In California, during that same period, 505 were killed and thousands seriously injured.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32,367 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes across the nation in 2011, and 31 percent of those fatalities occurred in drunken-driving related crashes. Californians recorded a total of 2,835 deaths, with 774 killed in DUI crashes in the same period.

Drunken drivers often face jail time, the loss of their driver licenses, higher insurance rates and dozens of other unanticipated expenses ranging from attorney fees, court costs, car towing and repairs to lost wages due to time off from work. Even worse, a drunken driver can cause a traffic crash that claims someone’s life, or their own, police said.

Law enforcement officials urge the public to follow these tips to keep the holidays safe and happy:

• Even one drink can impair your judgment and increase the risk of getting arrested for driving drunk – or worse, the risk of having a crash while driving.

• If you will be drinking, do not plan on driving. Plan ahead; designate a sober driver before the party begins.

• If you have been drinking, do not drive. Call a taxi, phone a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation.

• Be responsible. If someone you know is drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel.

• If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement by calling 911. Your actions may save someone’s life, and inaction could cost a life.